Family Pearls, Family Peace

Family Pearls, Family Peace

How family memoirs can bring peace and understanding between generations

by Joyce M. Coleman

You toss and turn, trying to wake up from a recurring nightmare that has you in its grip.

Four generations of family members are descending on your house for this year's Christmas dinner. It's suppose to be a happy occasion, so why are you in a cold sweat? Tension rises and tempers flare. God forbid, they aren't coming to dinner! They live with you. Your daughter-in-law flees from you, stung by your simple request to be quiet already, she's getting on your last good nerve. Your mother-in-law tells you for the umpteenth time how lucky you are to have snagged her son. Your grandchildren are trying to hide a snicker about the weird way you and great-grandma talk and dress. You are seriously ticked off because your mother and mother- in-law refuse to accept the undeniable fact that you are a grandparent, and should be respected accordingly. You and your husband are beside yourself, and out of frustration you act like enemies instead of each other's support system. All in all, it is a dream from hell.

And then you wake up and discover that it isn't a dream after all.

Although statistics show that intergenerational families are a common occurrence, it is still one of the least talked about family situations.

We women seldom talk about it, because we don't want to embarrass our loved ones. We bear our burdens, almost in silence, sharing our frustrations only with our few remaining friends.

If this situation hasn't come to your house yet, not to worry. It will. Give it a year or two. If you are a baby boomer like me, and fortunate enough to have a living parent (or parents), it will come. And sadly, time is not with us with regard to keeping this repository of wisdom and information with us forever. We need to capture it while time permits.

We Boomers don't think of ourselves as "older," but let's face it, we are the generation most able to articulate our accumulated experiences, wisdom, and other information critical to helping our children,grandchildren, and those not yet born understand why they are the way they are. Our knowledge holds the key to their recognizing if not avoiding sand traps, and other dangerous situations.

Here's the good news. There is no need to be a victim of this situation, or wait until all we can say is "I shoulda, woulda, coulda. " You have the capacity to change things, to bring understanding and joy into your intergenerational family. You have the capacity to capture history and share it with generations to come. There is nothing that brings a sense of purpose, self-esteem, and fulfillment like having a formal, documented account, memoirs if you will, that chronicles your own history.

The process has three simple steps and is actually a lot of fun.

Step 1: Create your own memoirs, or become an angel of mercy and help an older family member get started. If two or more like each other's company, consider collaboration among family members.

Begin at the beginning. What is your earliest memory of your childhood home? A picture really is worth a thousand words. Draw a picture of it that will literally map this part of your story. You don't have to be Picasso. Start with a rectangle, about the size of a regular sheet of paper. Draw your house. Lay out your street, then the streets in your neighborhood. Who were the people and what were they like? What were you favorite places? Why? Maybe you didn't exactly live on a street. My map included our house, yard, chickens, corn crib, ditch, a path through the patch and another leading up the pasture. Everything we did contributed to getting food, getting our lessons, going to church, and the normal games siblings play on each other. The main characters were my family, dominated by my mother and grandfather. Whatever else I wrote about, these were recurring people and themes.

Next, write down everything you remember about each part of the picture you've just drawn. Write it as it comes to you. Give depth and character to your pictures. Write what you feel. Keep writing until you can actually smell the food, reach out and touch your favorite chair, or hear your mother's voice calling to you. You'll have time later to sort it all out. Some of it will make you weep, and others will have you rolling on the floor with glee.

Now determine what most vividly touched your early life. Was it family, school? Did you move frequently? You have to feel strongly about it in order to help others see why you feel the way you do.

Challenge your memory. Family members come in handy here. See if they remember it the same way you do. Be careful not to get into memory turf wars. Each of us jealously guards our recollections; they make up who we are. So be gentle. This is suppose to be fun, and these are your memoirs.

Use facts to give your memoirs authenticity and accuracy. Your local library is a great place to start. Property records at a county recording office will clarify who owned the property next to you (and you thought they were aliens). Court records will tell you who was married to whom (oops!). Probate records show death and inheritances. Department of education records recount the public education grandma and Aunt Tilda received. Police records might allay your suspicions about your ancestors, or confirm your runaway suspicions. You might find information that shows an entirely different perspective from that you have carried all your life.

When you revisit your early life, you'll discover that each day, week, month, and year present wonderful fodder for your memoirs. Block these periods. Let your memory take you across each landscape. Write what you see. Soon you will be able to capture the essence of experiences and activities that made you who you are. Don't stifle your reactions to them, even those you would just as soon forget. You survived, didn't you. If you're reading this, you've done better than simple survive; you're taking charge of your life.

As you work through each blocked period, look for the these elements within your memories, and how you feel about the impact each had on your life.




Most influential adult

Historical events

Happiest event

Most frightening event

Proudest moment

Most embarrassing event

Your first love

Locate all the pictures of people, places, and things you can get your hands on. Pictures, historical fact, and the role each had in your life make for dynamic and interesting reading.

Congratulations. You have taken the first steps to writing your memoirs. Step 2: Lay out your information and pictures in chronological order. Use historical events to frame your stories. This makes your memoirs an excellent resource for teaching local history, sharing heritage, and instilling pride in family legacy. Step 3: Prepare for gift-giving, as your memoirs make a most treasured gift that lasts throughout generations. Make them into a book to share with others, develop individual stories into skits and/or readings to bring excitement to family celebrations. Or,turn them into dollars as you launch your new writing and teaching career.

Copyright 2001 Joyce M. Coleman. All rights reserved, except as noted above.

About the Author:

Joyce is an author and can be visited at or Subscribe to her The Business of Life - Ezine newsletter or view it online at here. Look for action tips on Wealth Building, Food for the Soul, and links to Soul Food Cooking. Read excerpts from her book, Soul Stirrings: How looking back gives each of us the freedom to move forward.


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